Since 1974, Judas Priest
have been one of heavy metal's most successful bands, issuing such all-time classic albums as 1980's British Steel, 1982's Screaming for Vengeance, and 1990's Painkiller. And such arena-rocking anthems as "Breaking the Law," "Living After Midnight," and "You've Got Another Thing Comin' have gone on to become Judas Priest staples. However, the Priest's influence goes far beyond just their music - they were the first metal band to embrace the 'leather biker look
,' a fashion that has since become synonymous with the musical genre. Additionally, Rob Halford's powerful four-and-a-half octave vocal range and the twin guitar harmonies of K.K Downing and Glenn Tipton have been 'studied
' by countless metal bands in Priest's wake.
Recently, the band released their most adventurous album to date, in the form of Nostradamus
, a lengthy opus based on the life and predictions of Nostradamus. Long in the works, it takes epic storytelling to a whole new level, as it recounts the life of this mysterious, world-known 16thCentury French prophet.Some of the events that Nostradamus experts have interpreted as his predictions include the great fire of London in 1666, the rise of Adolf Hitler, and most recently, 9-11, among countless other renowned events. Currently the band is undertaking another world tour in the wake of the album's release. During the band's recent stop over in Germany as part of the world tour itinerary, Joe Matera
spoke to Glenn Tipton
for this exclusive interview for Ultimate-Guitar
Ultimate-guitar.com: Nostradamus is a very different and more adventurous Judas Priest album compared to the band's previous efforts.
Because the album is a concept album, it enabled us to step into areas that we normally wouldn't have stepped into. And though we've always dabbled a bit in Baroque classical music, this album is almost operatic in places. But the music is the appropriate thing from our point of view, in order to tell the story of Nostradamus. And because of that, it enabled us to step into these slightly different areas. Yet funnily enough, it still came out sounding very much as Judas Priest.
It is quite a bold move to make and certainly there was a risk involved, career wise, in taking such a different route, but I think you have succeeded with the whole process.
Thanks. Obviously it is a risk and we certainly don't want to upset our fans but it did work out. It will satisfy them and at the same time, it is forging into new territory. And as long as they give it a chance to listen to it, in the way it is suppose to be listened to, which is from start to finish. It is not really an album where you can listen to one or two tracks.
Some of the early reviews of the album have been negative yet like you just said, I think that with this album, you really need to listen to it a number of times as a whole before you're able to come away from it with any objective appraisal.
Yeah I mean we did expect some of those negative reviews. Every album we've brought out has been a little bit different anyway. If we wanted to, we could just do the same album time and time again and just add different lyrics to it. But that is not what we're really about. We are a band that likes to try and broaden our horizons of what is acceptable for metal. And we like to give each one of our albums its own character. This album is something you've got to really step into. You've got to step into the world of Nostradamus and his life. A story we have told both lyrically and musically. And we never set out to do a double album, but in the end we decided that we did need an amount of time to tell the story properly. And it is the story that counts really in the end.
Because of the more orchestrated sounds on the album, did the approach to the writing process differ from previous methods?
|"It is not really an album where you can listen to one or two tracks."|
We wrote a little bit of it on keyboards and then transposed that across. But we basically worked in the same way as we normally do. We pool all our ideas and we use what is appropriate and discard what isn't. We did want to make it slightly different though but we didn't want it to be a heavy metal band's orchestrated album if you know what I mean. So we brought in Don Airey [keyboards] on there, on a couple places. And we also used real strings too as well on a couple places too. And though we didn't want to saturate the album with that, we wanted to give it its own character.
Once the album was done, did you think about the enormous task it would be for the band, if they wanted to reproduce it in the live environment?
Yes, but I mean there are various ways to go about that these days. We would like to perform it in its entirety but its still early days to do that. We'd like to try and do that next year though and make it a special event out of each performance. We could play it at some special venues throughout the world. And when we do come to do it, logistically we shall look at the way we'll go about that. Whether we'll supplement it with backing vocalists in the chorus sections, adding an extra percussionist to it or whether we'd get a keyboard player or get some real string players. We shall look at all of that when we come to do it. But we can do it live. It is definitely possible and it is something that we would really like to pull off.
With the amount of time you had in the recording studio, did it afford you the chance to experiment with different ideas and sounds?
Yeah. It wasn't an album that was easy to get, for instance, rhythm guitar sounds because on all the previous Judas Priest albums, we would put down a 'blood and thunder' guitar sound and off we'd go. But with this album we needed to be a little bit more subtle with the rhythm guitar sounds because, although they still had to be heavy, when we went into the quiet sections the other instruments had to be able to blend in. And so there was a danger of them taking over. So it was quite difficult to get that compromise with the rhythm guitars.
What gear did you use for the recording sessions?
Guitar wise, I used some Godin guitars as well as my Hamer guitars a lot of the time. I also used things like my old Strat and things like that on some of the tracks. When it came to amps, I used quite a selection of different heads from Marshalls to Digi-Tech amps and processed amps that were miked up a lot with ribbon mikes. And I used Marshall cabs and there was even a Marshall combo. It was a very complex album to record as we used a many varied of things. We took it really track by track and you can tell when you listen to it, as each track is totally different. We couldn't do it as we normally would do which is, setting up a rhythm guitar sound and saying, 'that will do for the album
'. This time around it needed a lot more thought and experimentation. We were a bit like mad professors working in our laboratories. (laughs)
With all the different amp heads did you do a lot of amp blending?
|"We would like to perform it in its entirety but its still early days to do that."|
Sometimes we would. Because we recorded on Pro Tools, we actually did a lot of re-amping. It was a very useful tool to have, as with Pro Tools it is very easy to put another direct line down. So this proved to be valuable because you never knew how a track was going to end up, particularly when it came to putting in choral sections and vocal sections. At the end of the day, if the original guitar sound that you had didn't work properly, you could just re-amp. This way you could actually feed your D-I sound through a blend of amps or even just one amp. Or you could add another processed sound and live mike it and maybe blend those together and get the phasing correct. So it was like having a second shot at it really, if your first sound didn't work. And if it was a computer guitar thing, you could just keep switching through which was really useful thing to have too because your track was already there. Yet you could keep changing the sound of the guitar as you went along and that worked really well with the tracks. So it was useful to have that on this project. I don't think it is a good idea to have that happening on every album though, as I think you really need to have a fresh organic sound first and foremost.
For the current world tour, what sort of gear are you taking out on the road with you?
Aside from a handful of Hamer guitars, I am using Marshall 9100 power amps and Marshall cabinets, which I think still have the standard speakers in them. I also have a DigiTech 1101 pre amp with me. And I am still using my Yamaha SPX90s and various echo units as well as, a MIDI changeable pedal, a switching system that can give me various preamp settings or various effect settings. It is much a pretty basic set up onstage because I can get almost any sound I want from it as there is not too much to go on. I always try and keep it as simple as I can on stage.
And how does touring in 2008 compare to the band's touring days of the 1980s?
There is not much of a vast difference from our point of view except that we don't do as much drinking these days as we used to (laughs). Our metabolism was much better back in those days (laughs). So, I guess that is the main difference. At the moment the main thing for us is about getting onstage and playing that hour and half or two hours every night as best as we can and to perform 100%. So we gear our day to that. We still travel by tour bus when we can because we prefer that as it is better than airports or taxis or this and that. But we try and relax during day so we can prepare for the show at night. Aside from that, we're still in dressing rooms and the like. And when we're on stage, we still have got the ecstatic crowds. So it is always wonderful to be on that stage hearing the crowd singing along to some of the Priest songs.
Interview by Joe Matera